Corp of Engineers, Greenville residents spar over removal of earthen levee

Sunday, November 6, 2011

GREENVILLE, Mo. -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and city of Greenville were again unable Thursday night to find common ground on a topic which leaves many residents there frustrated and concerned future flood events will endanger property and lives.

Corps engineers want Wappapello Lake Project Manager Cindy Jackson to remove an earthen levee built by volunteers at the north end of town during spring flooding. Under their proposed plan, the corps would rebuild the levee if certain lake levels and rainfall occurs.

Greenville officials do not believe this plan is sufficient to protect citizens and say the levee should remain.

The corps had originally set Friday as the deadline for an agreement to be reached between the involved parties, but an extension is to be requested.

It was decided during a city council meeting Thursday that a meeting should be held among town leaders, those making the decisions for the corps' St. Louis District, the Missouri Department of Transportation, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. Tom Schulte attended Thursday's meeting on behalf of Blunt.

"Our going back and forth is not getting us anywhere," said Wayne County Eastern District Commissioner Bill Hovis. Jackson reiterated the levee would remain in place until the city and corps reach an agreement.

The levee was built on corps-owned property, to which the Missouri Department of Transportation has leased right of way for a road.

MoDOT rebuilt the levee after spring flooding and Greenville has promised to maintain it, however the corps believes its placement on its property exceeds authority.

The levee helped limit the number of days Greenville's main entrance was flooded, as well as preventing additional property in the city from flooding, according to Mayor Don Scowden.

Greenville's problems were caused by excessive rainwater, according to Jackson, and the corps does not have the authority to manage rainwater, only lake water.

The only time the levee would be needed, she said, would be when flooding is caused by excessive storm runoff.

A report from corps engineers indicates the preferred option would be to remove the levee and rebuild it when the lake has a forecast elevation of 387 feet. A contractor would be put on notice at a forecast elevation of 375 feet.

The corps would furnish pumps when the forecast elevation reached 388 feet and the five-day rainfall total was predicted to be greater than 3 inches.

Some at the meeting questioned whether the contractor and corps would be able to respond quickly enough in an emergency situation.

Jackson said a plan was not in place during the spring event, but one would be for the future and would be followed.

Other residents questioned the wisdom of removing and replacing the levee.

"Taxpayers paid to build the levee. Taxpayers will pay to take it out. Taxpayers will pay to put it back," said one man. "How many billions of dollars is that 250 feet of dirt going to cost us?"

The corps report indicates Wappapello Lake has only exceeded an elevation of 388 seven times in 70 years, and estimates this to be a 10-year, 24-hour event.

Rainwater normally drains from Greenville into the lake via four large pipes. However, when the elevation reaches about 380 feet, flapper valves in the pipes close to prevent the lake from back-flowing into Greenville.

The flooding is happening more frequently, said city council member C.L. McClure. The construction of two raised lanes of U.S. 67 has changed the flow of rainwater, McClure said.

"The flood is not a factor of weather, it's of the highway," agreed corps program manager Dennis Gilmore, when questioned by McClure.

Gilmore said the greatest issue in this situation is what the corps has the authority to do.

MoDOT plans to put a culvert under the north entrance of Greenville and do grading, which will funnel water out the north end of town, said area engineer David Wyman. Water was trapped in three separate pools, requiring multiple pumping operations during the flooding.

They also are going to help construct an emergency road which will connect to U.S. 67, Wyman said.

"The highway department does not have the authority to put that levee there," Wyman continued. "At the time, it seemed to make sense, but it is corps property. We have an easement for a road. We do not have an easement for a levee."

The property ultimately belongs to the corps, according to Wayne County Western District Commissioner Chad Henson. "It's still their land and still their responsibility," he said. "We have to understand as a city and a county they have a job to do, whether we like it or not."

Pertinent address:

Greenville, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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